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J Hepatol. 1999 Sep;31(3):407-15.

The viral clearance in interferon-treated chronic hepatitis C is associated with increased cytotoxic T cell frequencies.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany.



Cytotoxic T lymphocytes have been demonstrated in peripheral blood and liver tissue of patients with chronic hepatitis C virus infection, but their significance for viral clearance is unknown. Therefore, we analyzed hepatitis C virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte precursor frequencies in chronic hepatitis C virus carriers during interferon-alpha treatment.


Blood mononuclear cells or CD8+ T cells from HLA-A2 positive and negative patients and controls were analyzed in chromium-release assays using a panel of 18 synthetic peptides from the HCV core, E1 and NS4 antigens bearing HLA-A2 binding motifs. Specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte precursor frequencies were studied within CD8+ T cells derived from interferon-alpha-treated patients using a TNF-alpha-based ELISPOT assay and compared to viremia levels.


T cells from 16 of 24 HLA-A2+ but none of the six HLA-A2- patients with chronic hepatitis C and six HLA-A2+ healthy controls lysed targets pulsed with peptide cocktails. Fine specificity revealed four very immunogenic epitopes in the core (C36-44, C132-140) and the envelope regions (E332-340, E363-372). Cytotoxic T lymphocyte precursor frequencies were prospectively analyzed in 11 interferon-alpha-treated HLA-A2+ hepatitis C virus patients. Four sustained and two transient therapy responders showed lower pretreatment viremia levels and significantly higher specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte precursor frequencies during viral clearance compared to five therapy non-responders and untreated controls.


The quantitative induction of HLA-class I restricted responses by interferon-alpha could contribute to a beneficial outcome of hepatitis C virus infections. Furthermore, it appears that the balance between viral load and specific cellular immune responses is critical for successful viral clearance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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